Saturday, March 18, 2017

Reader Responses

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I want to thank Jon Wheatley and Kevin Goss for their perceptive Facebook replies last week. I hope others feel free to reply to future posts, if only on Facebook. I'm happy to cut and paste, understanding it's often easier for folks to respond on Facebook while they're there. Can someone please tell me if it's hard to post replies directly on Blogspot? Thanks again to the intrepid Peter Landsdowne for doing so.

So often I think of Adams as a complex soloist and forget how difficult his tunes are to play. Other than playing a few of his lead sheets on piano, the only Pepper tune I've ever played on my instrument is "Rue Serpente." I did that in the mid-1980s, while working on my Pepper Adams thesis at Tufts. I put together my own arrangement for solo guitar. It sure took me a long time to work it out.

During that time, I studied briefly with guitarist Jon Wheatley. His perception of Pepper's original tunes having melodies that are not easily singable is interesting and certainly deserves more scrutiny. Is that unusual in the jazz canon? Is that a reason to exclude his (or anyone's) tunes from the standard repertoire? It seems that "Muezzin'" and "Freddie Froo" are the only Adams compositions to ever make it into a fakebook. Please let me know what you think about this.

As for Wheatley's claim that Pepper played his own, difficult material, yes, that's true chiefly once he went out as a single in 1977, after leaving Thad/Mel. As drummer Ron Marabuto told me, after Pepper made the move he focused on organizing a book he could take around with him. His wife, Claudette, said Pepper at that time spent a lot of time composing at the piano. Fortunately, Pepper's two dates for Muse (Reflectory and The Master) gave him an outlet to record some of his new tunes, as did two subsequent dates on Uptown and recordings as a sideman with Bill Perkins and Hod O'Brien.

Even though by 1977 Pepper had already written and recorded more than twenty original compositions, he didn't play many of them on his own gigs. For those, he might pull one out from time to time, answer a request, or chose a favorite Thad Jones tune. More often, though, Adams played standards. 

Adams was careful with his repertoire. Let's not forget that non-American rhythm sections really varied in terms of quality before the 1980s or '90s.  As he put it, Pepper didn't "want to show distain for the audience" and downgrade a performance by calling a tune that a rhythm section couldn't handle.

As for Pepper's tunes being difficult to play, trumpeter Red Rodney said in my interview with him that Valse Celtique was "tough" and he would have appreciated some rehearsal time with it before a Barry Harris concert, when Pepper pulled it out to play. More recently, drummer Mike Melito, between tunes at a 2015 Rochester, New York concert he led of Pepper's music, said to the Bop Shop audience, "This music is really hard." Melito's superb band of Eastman guys (including pianist Harold Danko) played the music impeccably, by the way. I wish I had a tape of it. Many years ago, bassist Rufus Reid told me that some of Pepper's tunes were "too intellectual." Did he in part mean they were tough to play?

I thought I'd shoot an email to Mike Melito and ask him to elaborate on why he feels Pepper's music is hard to play. He wrote right back with the following:

"Hey Gary:
Here are some thoughts on why I think Pepper's tunes were difficult from the drums' standpoint.
Pepper Adams' compositions were masterpieces but posed many challenges for musicians to play them. As a drummer, you need to be able to play the ensembles of tunes but not just play generic time. You need to know how to make the melodies of compositions come alive, otherwise everything will sound the same. Pepper's tunes can not be played by a chump drummer who doesn't know how to deal with the ensembles. Pepper wrote certain tunes that were hard rhythmically. You need to be able to deal with that in a musical way. For instance, you need to know how to make short sounds for short notes in the melodies. But you also have to know how to make longer notes in the melody BUT also play around the rhythms without clashing with the ensembles, and knowing when to leave space. Developing this is not an easy task! 

One of my favorite Pepper tunes is "Cindy's Tune," originally recorded on his record Encounter with Zoot Sims. First off, the melody of this tune is tricky for the horns so you can't get in the way. When you come across a composition like this, you can orchestrate it in different ways. Elvin Jones, the drummer on Encounter, brought his brillant organic thing to the melody. He played around the melody, outlining it but having such a wide beat. Being Elvin, it worked great. There is only one Elvin Jones, though, so as a drummer we have to come up with our own way of playing the difficult melodies Pepper wrote. What works for one guy may not work for another. That is one of the biggest challenges as a drummer when playing Pepper's music: knowing how to make the melodies come alive."

Great stuff from Mike Melito! Thanks so much for your insights. Aside from the various comments about Pepper's tunes being difficult, I found Kevin Goss' comments about audiences "listening with their eyes" really fascinating. For one thing, Pepper just didn't care that much about how he dressed. Some musicians, like Bobby Timmons, would get on his case in the late 1950 and 60s for his raggedy sport coat (possibly the one worn in the photo on's homepage), or how indifferent Pepper was to dressing up for a gig. Even later in life, when his wife and step-son tried to get him au courant by wearing a leather vest and dress shirt (see the cover to Live at Fat Tuesday's below), Pepper's white tee shirt always seemed to peek out of his wide-open collar. To see another one of Pepper's informal outfits, see this performance with Clark Terry in Sweden. Pepper, with his flannel shirt, almost looks like he could have just milked a cow: 

There were some notable exceptions when Pepper did show some concern for appearance on the bandstand. In 1960, Pepper came to his gig at Montreal's Little Vienna wearing a bow tie and criticized pianist Keith White for not wearing socks. The Little Vienna had a completely unpretentious coffee house like vibe that in no way approximated a white-table cloth supper club, nor was it a place where the audience would dress up. White's response to Pepper's criticism was, "This is the Little Vienna, not the Waldorf Astoria."

Regarding Pepper's looks, if you check out some of the photos of Adams as a child on my Instagram page (, you might agree with me that Pepper was quite a cute kid. Somewhere along the way, he was stigmatized about being ugly. Being branded with the nickname of "Pepper" in the Seventh Grade certainly didn't help. He said repeatedly over the years that Pepper Martin (to whom he was compared by his schoolmates, and nicknamed after) was "an ugly son-of-a-gun." 

In one interview I did, I was told that Pepper was quite sensitive about his looks. His Princeton haircut of the 1950s and 60s--close on the sides and almost a Mohawk on top--certainly made him look rather eccentric in some photographs. In 1985, during intermission at a gig in New Jersey, Pepper joked about his crooked front teeth (that he couldn't afford to fix), that were damaged by playing hockey in Rochester. About them, he said to me with a twinkle in his eye, "Do you think they grow that way?" Despite his misgivings about his looks, from what I can tell there never seemed to be any shortage of groupies and women around him. Musicians really have it made, don't they?

This past week I also heard from saxophonist/arranger Frank Griffith and saxophonist Frank Basile. Both wrote me about how much they enjoyed what Tony Inzalaco had to say a few weeks back. Tony is a really special person. Anyone in the Anaheim area should try to catch his group, hear him while he's still going strong, and get to know him.

Saxophonist Aaron Lington also emailed me about the first 50 Years at the Village Vanguard post, saying it's a great book. My review of the book's contents is still forthcoming. I want to give it the attention it deserves. Unlike many jazz picture books, there's a considerable amount of text. Lington, by the way, is in the midst of an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign. Please help put him way over the top:

A few other things of interest took place this week. I got a wonderful email from tenor saxophonist Osian Roberts. He said he was enjoying the blog. I immediately wrote back telling him how much I appreciated he and others giving me feedback, that intermittent reinforcement from readers is so important to my psyche to keep all this Pepper work going. 

In part, too, Osian was consoling me for not getting my Detroit proposal approved for the 2017 Darmstadt conference. Looking back, I was a tad naive. I should have first asked around about what kind of language they usually look for in these proposals. I was just too excited about the prospect of traveling abroad and presenting my research on 1950s Detroit. In turns out that they give preference to those with academically germane jargon. Not being a member of "the club," I wrote it in plain English. No big deal. It helped me get some Detroit work done. But I wanted to get to Prague and hear Osian play some Pepper tunes with his small group and big band.

In Osian's email, he told me about his recent tour with Detroit pianist Kirk Lightsey. I'm hoping to interview Lightsey by Skype sometime soon. Lightsey currently lives in Paris and he knew Pepper as an elder on the scene. I'm especially interested in Kirk's remembrances of growing up in Detroit.  

Roberts wrote that Lightsey on their tour spoke of "how smartly dressed Doug Watkins was," and "the picture he painted of the music scene [in Detroit] when he was growing up and the standard of the musicians was vivid and impressive. What struck me was the fact that all the musicians he mentioned were studying classical music to a very advanced level (enthusiastically I should add!), whereas jazz was mainly learnt at friends' houses such as Barry Harris' and so forth. The fact that [Lightsey] majored on oboe (which he played in the symphony orchestra with Paul Chambers), but could play all the woodwind instruments from clarinet to bassoon, gives you an idea of how thoroughly trained and accomplished these guys were. Apparently, [Lightsey] was in an Army band with Joe Henderson on bass (and he was excellent)!"

As I'll be traveling for the next few weeks, lecturing about Pepper Adams in Utah, this post will be my last in March. The next installment will be on April 16. I hope everybody in the U.S. gets their income taxes done. 

I'm going to close with the stunning discovery that the webmaster of, Dan Olson, made just three days ago. A few months ago some of you marveled at the discovery of the triumphant and previously unseen 1982 Pepper Adams TV performance on the Grammy Awards telecast. Amazingly, Olson just found a much better YouTube version. It has better resolution, includes John Denver's introduction for context, and most importantly has a completely unsulllied version of Adams' cadenza. All known versions beforehand had a defect on Pepper's concluding "funny note." We now have a complete two-minute take of the entire thing with the rhythm section, and how it then dovetails into his two-minute version of "Blue Rondo a la Turk" with Al Jarreau. As Pepper told me, his uptempo arrangement of (appropriately enough) "My Shining Hour" allowed him to at least get a chance to improvise. Finally seeing his complete comedic routine, beginning with the "Muppets Theme" and ending with him looking into the bell of his horn, is something I've waited over thirty years to see. As Pepper told me about that experience, a limo picked him up at the airport, everything was first-class. "Two minutes in the big time," he said.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Lecture Notes

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

I was off for much of the week, enjoying a few rounds of golf with a good friend. Because of that, the second part of my review of 50 Years at the Village Vanguard will be delayed at least a week. Thanks for your patience.

As of yesterday, I began preparing a new Pepper Adams lecture for at least four talks I'll be giving in Utah over a two-week period starting March 27. I've been invited to Utah State University for a few days as a guest of professor Jon Gudmundson. I'll be speaking about Pepper Adams in a classroom setting on April 4, and again at a pre-concert talk on April 5. The latter will be before a concert by the Utah State Jazz Band. They're performing some of Tony Faulkner's big band charts of Pepper Adams tunes, with Jason Marshall as the featured baritone saxophone soloist. The previous week I'll be lecturing to mostly music students at Westminster College (3/28), Salt Lake Community College (3/30) and Brigham Young University (3/31).

As I always do, I try to bring something new to these lectures. Apart from choosing different videos and music examples, I've tried to further refine why Pepper Adams remains overlooked. After all, why am I standing before these people, and why have so few in attendance not heard of him? Below is part of what I'll be presenting. (For one class I'll need to truncate my talk, hence the bracketed thing about Detroit.) I'm interested in your feedback. Am I on the right track? 


Thank you, ________. It's great to be here. Today I'm going to discuss Pepper Adams' contribution to American music [ . . . and I'll touch on why his postwar Detroit generation of musicians is unique in jazz history.] 

Before I begin, do you have any burning questions for me about Pepper Adams or about my work about him? Have any of you seen, my Instagram site, or my blog?

Before my lecture here was announced, how many of you had even heard of Pepper Adams? . . . 

There's no doubt that among jazz musicians during Adams' lifetime, and for many insiders up to this day, Pepper Adams is viewed as a jazz titan, an icon. Nevertheless, he still isn't widely known as a musician of significance, as I think he should be, nor even discussed in any depth in jazz histories that really should know better. Despite the reverence he commands among musicians, Adams still lingers as somewhat of a footnote to history. That disconnect, albeit gradually improving over time, is something I've dedicated my life to changing.

I've been working on Pepper Adams for 33 years, since I met him in the summer of 1984. I knew him during the last three years of his life, two during his terminal illness. I'm continually struck by how much he's overlooked as an innovator. Part of this, I think, is due to the sheer complexity of his style. There's a lot going on, a lot to grasp, when you hear a Pepper Adams solo! 

Another reason, as I see it, is the bias in the way jazz history is told and the way it's sold. For me, they are two sides of the same phenomenon. If you look through the histories of jazz, you'll likely notice that so much of it discusses bandleaders and their recordings. Those who led jazz bands have historically made the most well-known recordings because they are the ones most promoted by record companies, PR firms, radio and TV, and other affiliated industries. Such bandleader recordings in turn have gotten the most press and continual airplay. So, around and around it goes in a circular, self-aggrandizing cycle of promotion and acclaim.

Yet, I'd like to point out that there's a lot more to the history of jazz than music made only by bandleaders. The way they've been anointed as the core history of this amazing music is myopic and unfortunate. For one thing, there's the overlooked history of music made in major cities such as Detroit. Fortunately, this kind of localized scholarship is really beginning to flower. 

Then there's the issue of sidemen. Some of the greatest jazz musicians, such as Pepper Adams or Sonny Stitt, to name just two saxophonists, preferred to tour as soloists, playing with pickup rhythm sections throughout the world. They didn't want the responsibility of leading a band and running a business. Being a sideman doesn't make them any less important as players, nor, as I've said, shouldn't marginalize them in term of their historical influence. It's simply a business decision they've made, though it certainly has its implications, doesn't it? Even Charlie Parker, by the way, though extremely well known, also spent much of his career touring this way. 

So, part of Pepper Adams' lack of recognition is due to issues related to commerce, as well as the common narrative sold by the media and told in jazz books. In addition, he played the baritone saxophone, an instrument that before him was thought to be cumbersome and unwieldy; a low-pitched instrument that early in the Twentieth Century was somewhat of a novelty instrument. One of Adams' great contributions to music is the way he brought the level of playing on the baritone saxophone up to the level of all other instruments. 

Sunday, March 5, 2017

50 Years at the Vanguard, Part 1

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

Fifty days is a long time to keep a jazz gig. How about fifty years? The amazing big band that performs every Monday night at the Village Vanguard has been at it for half a century. It's the longest gig in jazz history. 

It all began on February 7, 1966. That's when Thad Jones brought a group of New York musicians to the Vanguard for their first public gig. They were rehearsing his music since the previous Thanksgiving weekend. 

Monday nights at the Vanguard were dark. In fact, back then, little jazz took place in New York on Monday night. The owner of the Vanguard, Max Gordon, figured why not? The music is great, the musicians first class. Let's give it a shot and see what happens.

Word spread quickly about the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. Musicians were lining up in the rain to catch it. Thad's band quickly became a sensation. His arrangements were fresh and exciting. The band was soulful and swung hard. The section playing and soloists were superb. The rhythm section unsurpassed. And Thad's conducting style? The consummate leader: Caring, passionate, egalitarian, and original. Among the musicians--on the bandstand and in the audience--there was so much admiration for Jones' music, his playing, and his incredibly high level of energy and creativity. The band was inspired by Thad's spontaneous rearranging of his charts. The audience was on the edge of their seat watching the theatrics unfold. Thad was the ultimate improviser--as a soloist, conductor and arranger. There was so much love in that room on Monday nights.

Thad's amazing legacy, and the devotion to what Thad and Mel wrought, shows no sign of ceasing. It's sustained weekly by longtime Jones/Lewis trombonist John Mosca and longtime lead alto player Dick Oatts. Considering this amazing history, and the extraordinary roster of musicians that have been part of it, is there anything more worthy to commemorate in a book? That's what Dave Lisik and Eric Allen have done with 50 Years at the Village Vanguard: Thad Jones, Mel Lewis and the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra.

The project almost didn't happen. Unable to connect with trombonist John Mosca (after several attempts to discuss their book idea with him), the authors agreed to try him one last time while both were in New York or they would shelve the project. Mosca, a busy freelancer, was able to meet with the authors on their very last day in New York. Lisik and Allen needed Mosca's approval and participation to have access to the band's music, archives, copyrights, and the many musicians they would need to interview. Beginning with that successful meeting with Mosca, the authors embarked on an extremely busy year to organize this beautiful picture book and band history.

I first learned about the project from baritone saxophonist Frank Basile. He gave my contact info to Eric Allen because of the large amount of Pepper Adams materials I have in my Archive that he felt could enhance the book. After a few emails, Allen and I had a long phone conversation. I found him to be an exceptionally nice person, someone I'd be happy to help. Over the course of many months last year, I did whatever I could to assist the project. I bought an Epson scanner and spent time being patiently tutored by Allen on how to use it. (A great instrumental music teacher, I figured.) I went through all my Adams materials to find relevant documents, such as band itineraries and photographs. We exchanged many emails, discussing the veracity of certain photos and their origins, and many other things regarding Thad/Mel and Pepper Adams. Quite simply, the authors' labor of love was mine too. After all, Pepper Adams spent twelve years in that band, almost a third of his life as a professional musician. 

About the devotion and love that has motivated everyone involved, John Mosca and Dick Oatts summarized it in their forewords to 50 Years. "The secret is out," wrote Mosca. We're not in it for the money." "Every Monday night," wrote Oatts, "each member of the band sets aside everything else and comes to the Village Vanguard to serve the music we love and respect. In spite of the lack of financial reward and the occasional artistic disagreement, it is an unconditional love. Individual agendas are left out of the mix in order to maintain the tradition and preserve the integrity of what Thad Jones and Mel Lewis started in 1966."

In next week's post, I will review the contents of this important book.

To witness Thad Jones' original and passionate conducting style, see 

For a great piece about Thad Jones career, see 

This from Eric Allen: "Since we are self-publishing the book, would you please mention our website as the only place it can be purchased?":